When Alabama takes the stage at Moorhead’s Bluestem Amphitheater Friday night, it will be a long overdue show. The show was originally scheduled for June 2020, but rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Friday’s concert will be the first big, national touring show to play the area in about 15 months and the band’s first show in about as long.
The delay in touring means the group is still celebrating its 50th anniversary, though it formed in 1969 in Fort Payne, Ala., by cousins singer/guitarist Randy Owen, bassist Teddy Gentry and guitarist/fiddler Jeff Cook.
The hits started landing with 1980’s album, “My Home’s in Alabama,” including the title track and the first of more than 40 No. 1 hits, “Why Lady Why” and “Tennessee River.”
Through the decade the group was a constant on country and mainstream radio, mixing Southern rock anthems (“Mountain Music,” “Song of the South”) with pop hooks (“The Closer You Get,” “When We Make Love”) and changing the sound of country music with its three-part harmonies.
The group’s popularity slowly waned in the 1990s and in 2002 it announced a farewell tour that wrapped up in Bismarck, two years later. Following Owen’s fight with prostate cancer in 2010, the group would reform and closed out WE Fest in 2012. In 2017, Cook announced he would reduce his performances as he struggled with Parkinson’s disease.
Owen and Gentry recently answered questions about the band’s tour and legacy.
It looks like Moorhead will be the first stop on the tour. What does it mean to you guys to get back out and perform in front of people again?
Gentry: It has been two years since we have toured and we are very excited and ready to play some music. We are doing this 50th Anniversary Tour for our fans.
Randy, you had a solo show at a bar in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in March. You had to postpone some dates on Alabama's 50th anniversary tour for health reasons and are a cancer survivor. Given your health history, why did you want to play that show while COVID was still such a threat?
Owen: It was a special show more geared as a songwriter presentation. Both the venue and our people worked together to meet all the requirements for COVID protection. Everyone wore masks and was seated at the required distance. It was a magical night and felt so good to play for a live crowd.
How is Jeff doing? Will he be coming to the Moorhead show?
Teddy: Jeff is a strong person and is dealing with his Parkinson’s the best he can. We don’t know, to be honest, if he will be at certain shows or not. It depends on how he is doing at the time. Randy and I would love to have him standing beside us on stage.
Since the band split in 2004, there's been a lot of love coming from other musicians, like Brad Paisley's "Old Alabama" to the tribute album, "Alabama & Friends," featuring acts like Florida Georgia Line that wasn't even around when you broke up. What's it like when you hear from much younger artists how much your music has inspired them?
Owen: It is special and we are blessed that many artists say that Alabama was the group they listened to growing up. Brad calls us The Beatles of Country Music. That is a very heavy title to live up to.
Some critics said that you were too pop and polished to be a country band and others thought you were too country to be a crossover band. Did those criticisms ever bother you?
Gentry: No. We had a lot of criticisms when we started. Nashville did not like us because we did not look or sound like any other country band on the road, four guys with long hair, jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes playing loud Southern country rock. But our fans did and radio did and the rest is history.
You closed out WE Fest in Detroit Lakes in 2012, 30 years after headlining the first festival. What recollections do you have of either time at WE Fest?
Gentry: That was our first big festival when we regrouped and started doing shows again. It sold out with 40,000 of our friends. It was a blast.
When you guys get together after some time apart, is there a song that gets you back in a groove, any songs that always help you click?
Owen: That is a hard question. We have been fortunate to have 43 No. 1 single records. One song that always moves the crowd and us is “My Home’s in Alabama.”
If you had to pick one song of yours to use as an introduction, as a way of saying, "This is what Alabama is all about," what song would it be?
Owen: “Mountain Music.”